Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Who Are YOU Talking To? A Guide to Writing Cross Genre

You know how you change your voice to talk to a baby? You wouldn't dare speak to an adult in that same squeaky high voice, right? Or a teen? And school kids might think something was wrong with you.

Things change as we mature, and authors have the responsibility to know what "voice" to use for their intended audience. Some authors develop a voice that only appeals to one group, while others jump across genre boundaries like jackrabbits leap sagebrush.

I'm a genre jumper, so I thought I'd share a few quick secrets today.


First of all, if you can't remember being a kid, you have no business writing for them. When writing for middle graders, you have to: 
  • Break down adult limitations on creativity and go to the extreme. Let yourself build the impossible upon the impossible. 
  • Be charming.
  • Keep your descriptions light and let your audience fill in the blanks with their imaginations.
  • Be aware of the injustice kids feel when faced with adult mandates. 
  • Remember kids typically feel alone in their difficulties.
  • Simpler language. Vocabulary should be commensurate with the age your writing for.
  • Keep it clean. No language at this age. 

Themes center around building friendships and learning how to fit into ones world.


Same thing applies here. If you don't remember being a teen, you're sunk. Most YA authors still feel like they're 16. Tips for writing YA:
  • There is going to be a love interest. Teens hormones dictate that. Deal with it.
  • Angst. Yes, teenagers are angsty. It's just a fact. 
  • Descriptions should be heavier than middle grade, but still leave some room for imagination.
  • Realize that teenagers are constantly worried about how their peers perceive them. 
  • Write quirky/smart dialog. Seriously. Teens have some of the craziest/funnest conversations.
  • Some language/older themes are acceptable, but keep it toned down. 
  • If you were a teenager 20+ years ago, your ideas of teenage living are ancient. Either write in a historical setting, or go hang out with teens to get a feel for their world.
  • Know technology.

Themes center around the worries of becoming an adult, figuring out how the individual stands out in the world, and resolving ones feelings of injustice with the way the world actually is.


This genre is so varied based on you're specific audience that I will only offer a couple thoughts:
  • Description should be rich. Unless your a minimalist. 
  • Anything goes as far as content.
  • Adults expect more believable worlds grounded in a reality they can relate to.
  • Most adult readers want to be engaged on an intellectual level. 

Themes often include looking back and wishing to start over.

And now to test your intellect...

Last week Meradeth Houston shared with us TRAVELERS, along with two truths and a lie. Those who guessed the lie correctly were entered into a random drawing for the chance to win ANY of her eBooks.
Meradeth's Game:

1. The only continent Meradeth has yet to make it to is Antarctica (and considering she hates the cold, that’s not high on her list! :).
2. She was fluent in Spanish long before English and actually didn’t learn to read in English until second grade.
3. Her family ran an animal rescue ranch while she was growing up and it was an odd week when there wasn’t something being raised or nursed back to health in their kitchen (everything from emu, to ferrets, to desert tortoises).

THE LIE: #1. She has yet to make it to Africa, which she hopes to remedy soon! Though there are too many awesome places to visit she can’t pick where she wants to go first.
Way to guess everyone! And the winner is:


Congrats, Michael! 

And now for this week's feature... 

A contemporary Rapunzel.

Seventeen-year-old Anya leads a very secluded life in a house on the edge of town with her adopted mother. She doesn't go to school, but instead has a private tutor. Her over-protective mom keeps her so sheltered that she doesn't even have a best friend.

But Anya doesn't seem to mind. She has her books, her photography, her daydreams, and would do anything to please her mom. Until one day at the library, the only place she's allowed to go, she takes a picture of a beautiful boy.

Before long she's lying to her mom, and sneaking out late at night to meet Zander. But Zander wants more than a secret romance. If Anya wants to be with the boy of her dreams, she will have to risk her relationship with the only other person she's ever cared about.

Get your copy HERE.

Ready to meet the author?

Rachel Schieffelbein grew up in a tiny town in Southeast Minnesota reading books, riding horses, and participating in speech and theater. She is now married with four kids and enjoys reading books, riding horses, and coaching speech and theater. If it ain't broke, don't fix it! 

She enjoys writing characters she can relate to, ones she would want to hangout with, or fall in love with. She hopes her readers will love them, too.

Rachel gave me two truths and one lie to test your "lie detector" skills. Those who figure out the lie will go into my magic hat for the chance to win an eBook of DON'T FALL.  

You have until Tuesday, September 15 at 1 p.m. EDT to guess. Be sure to come back for the answers on September 16. 

1. I once drove down a Canadian highway on a golf cart, and then took it through a McDonald's drive-thru with five other girls all on board.
2. Won a ballroom dance competition in five inch heels.
3. I was attacked by a deer. 

So sleuths, which is the lie? Do you have anything to add to the genre tips above? What is your favorite genre to read/write or both? Do you like Rapunzel's story?


  1. I guess I'm a minimalist when it comes to writing. Good checklist, Crystal.
    I'm going to say the second one is the lie because I can easily see the other two things happening.

  2. Great tips. It's amazing how some YA and MG authors seem to really click into kids' mindsets. Although now I feel ancient if my teen years of 20 years ago are "historical"!

    Congrats, Rachel. I'll also go with #2 as the lie.

  3. I'm going to guess number two, though deer often will run away, so I'm torn…

  4. Great breakdown of the different voices. I find it amusing how naturally we change our voices to talk to babies or kids. Congrats to Rachel! My guess is #3.

  5. I can write young adult and adult, but not middle grade. I can't find that voice. Maybe it's because I hated middle grade. :P

    As soon as I read "A contemporary Rapunzel" I was hooked! Lovely cover too.

    I think #2 is the lie.

  6. I've got an idea for a middle grade story so I really appreciate these tips. Might end up being for a younger audience but either way it's important to remember these things.
    I'm going with #3 as the lie.

  7. I think both kids and teens often feel alone and turn to books for company and for answers. Heck, I'm an "adult" and I do that. :)

  8. Great checklist. And so true how the writing has to change as the readers' ages move up.

  9. Great breakdown of the different categories! I write in all three, and I'm conscious of how I adapt my "voice" depending on who I'm writing for.

  10. Nice breakdown. I'd argue only one point, which is that anything goes with content in adult books--I don't think anyone writes talking animals for adults. Imaginative wish-fulfillment of childhood like that generally only gets written for kids. Which is kind of too bad.

  11. Aww, you left out New Adult. S'okay. :) I fit nowhere. I have to adopt a write what I love no matter who is going to read it mentality so I don't lose my mind and tuin my writing trying to fit my stuff in a certain category.

    Ooh, I love the idea of a contemporary Rapunzel!! I hope she wasn't attacked by s deer, but I'm going with #2 for the lie, in case she actually came in second or they were 6 inch heels! ^_^

  12. I'm cross genre as well, and I approve the highlighted differences you shared. Super helpful because, hey, sometimes we forget to switch gears. :)

  13. Congrats to Meradeth and Rachel. I have written for YA, MG and adult, and each one has its own merits and fun points.

  14. That was pretty clever and awesome to see the differences!

  15. Great advice, Crystal! I like this breakdown. Thanks also for the intro to Rachel. Happy Wednesday! :)

  16. Unfortunately, I'm a minimalist when it comes to my writing. I'm always asked to describe things more in detail. Thank you for the great tips. Definitely a few points I have to keep in mind. I think the lie is #1.

  17. OY! So you say if I was a teenager more than twenty years ago, I'm outta touch, huh? Heck, it's even been more than twenty years since my kids were teenagers. Guess I'm outta luck if I want to write for this age group. And I guess my teenage grandkids and their friends are lying when they say I'm "cool," huh...? (HA!)

    Talking about lies, I'll pick #1 as the fib this week.

    1. LOL! I say that because it's been about 20 years for me, and while hanging out with my teenage son, I KNOW I'm out of touch.

  18. But, but I don't want to be grounded in reality. It's no fun there. ;)

    Love Rachel's cover! Congrats! I'll guess #1 as the lie.

  19. Great tips. I leave remembering the teen years to others. :)

    Congrats to Rachel. I'll guess #2 is the lie.

  20. Yay, Rachel! I love her books :) I'm guessing #1 is the lie, though who knows!

    And I don't think there necessarily *has* to be a love interest in YA. Sure, many do, but there are YA centered around friendship, and I usually love those.

  21. I think 3 is the lie.

    Congrats to Michael.

    Great lists for those three age groups.

  22. I love the break down for writing for the different age groups.

  23. Wonderful post! I have a favor to ask: I did a long series of posts on different writing genres (about 15 of them--, but I didn't include Middle Grade. I'd like to repost that portion of this article with a link back to you for more info. Let me know if that's OK. It'll likely be about two-three weeks from now.

    Great job!

  24. I think you nailed it on the genres. I still totally feel like a 16 year old, so that must be why I like YA. Rachel's book sounds amazing. I always loved the Rapunzel story and I'm a big fan of retold fairytales with a modern twist. I'm going to go with #2 as the lie, just because 5 inch heels are insane.

  25. OMG, teens have the craziest conversations. They go from deep and existential to freaking out about a wasp in the room in the blink of an eye. (The wasp in the room happened today, actually.) It's fun to be the fly on the wall...

    Lie... #2...

  26. Great information and tips about writing for different genres. :) Fun to learn which was Meradeth's lie. I had no idea she spoke Spanish so fluently.

    I am guessing Rachel's lie is #3- though this is especially tricky. Her book sounds awesome. :)

  27. I'm going to guess the 2nd one is the lie. (Good luck with the book - sounds great!)

    Thanks for the great tips on voice per category, Crystal!

  28. I'm guessing number one is the lie. I think the number of girls was different. Congrats on the book!

    Great tips for age groups. I think that's why I'll never write MG novels. It wasn't a great time and I think if I tried to go back/remember I'd need a therapist.

  29. Great tips on voice. I try to write MG, but it always sounds too old in parts. Maybe one day :)

  30. Crystal, I love the tips you give here... I liken them to raising children even... my youngest was doing a 12 year old thing... my oldest was freaking out about it (she's 34) ... I reminded the older one that the youngest is only 12... I asked if she remembered because I do... I think we all need to remember and try to understand better... and it can make you a better writer too xox

  31. I love your advice; thanks for the tips! I especially agree with your part about choosing the right voice. I read a novel once that was supposedly YA, but even the teenagers talked like college professors; it made me enjoy the story (and the characters) a lot less, because I didn't buy the way they talked.
    It's been fifteen years since I was a teenager, but I work with teenagers every day in the classroom; one thing that hasn't changed is teens' overuse of the word "like." :)

  32. Seriously, thanks for the tips on the different styles... I never thought I'd be good with MG or YA, and now I know for sure (I was a teenager 30 years ago, and thankfully there was no Insta-anything :)

    PS: I'm going with #2 for Rachel... the golf cart thing sounds awesome, so I hope that's true :)

  33. Oh my gosh, you nailed it with the different genres! One of the most frustrating criticisms an author will face is one made by critics not totally comfortable/familiar with the target age audience.

    In my MG debut, I faced criticism by adult readers on a crucial lie told by my protagonist. Most adults thought the issue was WAY too important for the protag to lie about.

    However, I have met with many middle grade readers and not one of them has expressed any doubt about that part. When I ask them directly, they always shrug and say, "If he thought he was going to get in trouble ... then, yeah, he would lie."

    Sadly, I already knew this from my experience as a parent. Sigh.

    Know your audience as they really are -- not as you wish they would be.

  34. Thanks for the wonderful tips for each genre! ♥

  35. Thanks for the wonderful tips for each genre! ♥

  36. These are spot on!!! I recently read an MG that was must definitely way too adult for a 10 year old MC, it breaks my heart. Sigh.

    Hmm . . . for the lie I'm going with #1 . . . although I don't know Canadian highway, I think of a golf cart in NY's highway and I'm petrified lol

  37. Love the advice! Yes, know technology! I would say also, you don't want to date your fiction, so if you can stay away from specifics...all the better. I read a story not long ago and the protagonist on a cell phone threw me a little just because the last time I read a romantic comedy was in the early 90s and cell phones were too large then to hold to your ear with your shoulder. Makes me wonder if 10 years from now, cell phones might be out dated. bwahahahahaha......

  38. Writing for a younger audience is very hard. I've tried and failed.

    Hmm. I'm going with the gold cart as the lie. In the US, a cop would pull you over. But then you never know about those Canadians.

  39. Hi Crystal - just writing is bad enough! These must be great tips for many authors who perhaps are thinking of changing genres. Your household is full of alternatives!! I'd go with dancing in 5 inch heels - not an option ... so #2 ... good luck to Rachel though - cheers Hilary

  40. These are some really good tips! You really do have to remember what it's like to be a kid or teen to write in those genres.

  41. Ooh, good advice. My current book is adult, but the crazy dream book is YA. Though the book's circumstances are highly unusual, I'm not sure if I've really captured teenagers, though I do remember being one well enough. I know the book is going to be a huge project to edit, but I'll keep all this in mind. ^_^

  42. I think 3 is a lie because 1 is such a good story that I hope it's true.

    Wow, these are the best breakdowns of MG and YA I've seen in ages. They really clarify the differences between the two. One of my stories that I keep waffling on (is it MG? is it YA? Is it MGYAOMG?) is definitely a YA by these lights, and my dorkiness is saved by the fact that it's in a historical setting!

  43. I appreciate anyone that can write middle grade or YA, knowing I just never could. I'd probably end up talking down to them. I'm okay with writing for adults, though - I can get away with more, I feel like.

  44. Great breakdown of different genres of stories. It showed light for me!

  45. Okay, going with attacked by a deer is the lie.
    Don't Fall sounds intriguing. Great cover.

    Another wonderful post, Crystal.

  46. Some interesting points there, Miss Crystalicious! Since I'm a bit dark at the moment , I think I can get away with a lot! Hope you're doing good my lovely :)

  47. There was an interesting panel just last weekend about the differences between MG and YA. Growing up, I didn't read much MG, although I did read some YA. But for the most part, I went on to read adult books. It's funny how as an adult, I really enjoy YA.

    Plus, I taught high school English, so I was always around YA.

  48. You're so right about getting those voices right. Nothing's as jarring as reading a story that doesn't reflect the ages of the readers.

    I'm guessing #2 is the lie.

  49. Thanks for this. I jump between Middle Grade and Adult and after reading this post I'm feeling very encouraged. :-)

    Anna from Elements of Writing

  50. "Be charming"??? Well, that rules out MG for me ;)


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